Rerun: The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

 Hi! I’m out of town for a little while and am running some of my favorite posts, especially from the early days.

Originally published 12-1-10
 
What is your reaction when you come across something, whether it be
in conversation, on the news, in a book, on a blog, whatever, that you
feel is out and out wrong? Interestingly, I’m sure your reaction is
different depending on what kind of wrong it is.

If you come up against something morally
reprehensible, you probably feel indignation, disgust, outrage,
sadness. It depends on exactly what it is and how bad you judge it to
be. Some people are bothered more by one thing than another. You may be
inspired to action, maybe to prayer. You may be inspired to move quickly
to something else, mentally whisking the subject under the rug because
you feel that you can’t change it anyway so why think about it? You
might put your fist through the wall.

If you see (especially in print – somehow this makes it worse) something factually
wrong, again, the reactions will vary. Sometimes you might feel amused,
if you’re faced with a typo or Freudian slip. Sometimes you might feel
lightly exasperated, They still haven’t gotten that right.
Sometimes your anger knows no bounds. This is mostly likely to occur
when you see bare-faced lies in literature designed to instruct or
persuade people. Lies that are almost certainly that, lies, and not
merely mistakes. We are inclined, even grudgingly, to excuse mistakes,
but have a hard time with lies, because they are done consciously and
willingly.

So what do you do? This is the critical thing. Because you can only control your
reaction, not anyone else’s. The lie is there, the mistake is made, the
sin is done. Time machines not having been invented yet, going back and
undoing something is not an option, however strong the wish may be.
Changing someone’s mind? Possible, but usually unlikely. And engaging in
a debate is risky. You tend to lose, even if you only lose your peace. I
was told many years ago by an experienced nurse: Don’t get in an
argument with a crazy person. It’s like getting in the mud with a pig:
the pig enjoys it and you only get dirty. [This was sage advice.] This
also brings up another issue: whether you should try.

If
we’re responsible for the education of someone else, like your child,
then correcting misinformation is right and proper. It’s your
responsibility. What if you’re talking about moral or religious
misinformation? Again, if you are responsible for the person, then
charge right in. What if it’s someone in your parish? Only offer your
opinion if it was asked and tread carefully. What if you’re a priest? If
you’re a priest and reading this, then you can answer this one
yourself; I’m not a priest. (c;

What if you encounter
this sort of thing in a complete stranger? On a blog, say? Well, while
acknowledging that finding something wrong, misleading, etc. in “print”
is aggravating, you don’t have any duty to chime in on the com-box in an
effort to “set it right”. Seriously. You have to look at in a
risk-analysis sort of way. (1) What are the odds that your comment will
be so illuminating that the heavens will open and angels will appear
singing “alleluia” as the poster has a total conversion? (2) What are
the odds that you will start a com-box war that only stops when the
poster has enough and shuts down comments? (3) What are the odds that
you will stump around angrily for the next week, thinking up clever and
biting things to say?

Years and years ago, before I
was Orthodox, I had a friend who was an avowed atheist. Yes, I look back
in perplexity too. Anyway, this person kept a running
conversation/debate alive on God’s existence, etc., which kept me in a
perpetual tizzy. After a very long time, I ended the
relationship, realizing that while it had been a serious subject for me,
it had been a game for that person. I spoke with my spiritual father
about it long afterwards and he said (and this was earth shattering)
“God does not need you to defend him.” I was literally open-mouthed. I
said that I thought we were supposed to. He clarified it by saying that
while we should defend our faith personally, we had no responsibility to engage in fruitless discussions with people who were not receptive. This was terribly freeing.

I
find this lesson easily applies to the situations I outlined above.
This is how I can look sadly on a post that is (based on my experience
and education) wrong, and not bite. I said earlier that we can only
control ourselves, not other people. Why add anger to the list of things
wrong that day? Or vengeful thoughts? Because if you come face to face
with a wrong, getting blindingly angry only puts you between the Devil
and the deep blue sea. Better to stay out of the water instead.

Footnote:
When I was Catholic growing up, I was familiar with something called
“the near occasion of sin”, which translates to “something that will
almost certainly tempt you to sin if you get near it”. This is why we’re
supposed to avoid sinful literature, pictures, media, even some people.
If you always get angry when you read about a certain topic, or visit a certain blog, or even look at the news, then for heaven’s sake, don’t do it. You don’t have to “conquer” the passion of anger by constantly shoving the stimulus in your face.

Footnote
#2: I will caution you to not assume that I’m referring to a specific
blog or specific instance. This is honestly a very general post, and if
anything was a sermon to myself. I don’t want any feelings to get hurt
out of a misunderstanding. Please forgive any confusion I have caused.

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